Collie Colors Explained
Collie Color Basics:
It is easiest to think of the Collie breed as only having two genetic colors:
Tricolor- which is the black, white and tan coloration. Tricolor is the most recessive. When you breed two Tricolors together you can only get Tricolor puppies. If you breed a Tricolor to a Blue Merle you can only get Tricolors and Blue Merles. If you breed a Tricolor to a Pure Sable you will get Dark or Mahogany Sables. If you breed a Tricolor to a Dark or Mahagony Sable you will get some Tricolors and some Dark Sables.
Sable- various shades of orange brown. Pure genetic Sables do not carry the Tricolor or Merle gene and it is the most dominant gene. Isn't that convenient since "Lassie" is the most popular color? Pure Sables are usually more golden and have less black overlay and less black on their tail than Sables that carry the Tricolor gene. If you breed a Pure Sable to a Pure Sable you will only get Pure Sables. If you breed a Pure Sable to a Tri factored Sable (Dark or Mahogany Sable) you will get Dark Sables and Pure Sables. If you breed a Pure Sable to a Merle you can only get Sable Merles and some Sables. If you breed a Tri factored Sable to a Merle you could get Merles, Tricolors and Tri factored Sables. If you breed a Tri factored Sable to a Tricolor you will get Tri factored Sables and Tricolors.
Merle is a pattern gene. It basically separates the available black into patches. Blue-gray is part of black (think of the undercoat or wool of a tricolor Collie). Most blue eyes or eyes with some blue in them seem to ride on the Merle gene. Blue eyes and blue flecked eyes are mother nature's luck of the draw and it is very difficult to purposely breed for. If you have a sable looking puppy with blue eyes it probably has the merle gene. Blue eye color has no bearing on the health of the eye. When you put Merle on a Tricolor it turns it into a Blue Merle. If you breed any Merle to any other Merle you increase the chance of a "double merle" being born. Double Merles inherit the merle gene from each parent are may be blind, deaf or have other problems. Some breeders will breed merles to merles for specific traits in healthy puppies that only inherit the merle from one parent. When you put Merle on a Sable it becomes a Sable Merle. Sable Merles can be Pure Sables with the Merle gene- these puppies are often born with visible patches that become very hard to see as they mature. Pure Sable Merles can often be identified by the "softer" golden color especially about the face. Pure Sable Merles can always be identified when they are bred and produce a Merle. Dark Sable Merles are darkened by carrying the Tricolor gene (Tri factored). Dark Sable Merles will show their black overlay patches for life. They also have the "softer" gold on the faces and often have silvery patches about their ears.
Grey Collie Syndrome (cyclic neutropenia)- These puppies are born a different hue than normal puppies. These puppies will start showing greyish casts and silvering about their head, ears and any colored feet or tail tips that they have about 3 months of age or younger to an experienced eye. Looking like an old dog coloring almost. Their graying out and fading color will not be in patches like on a sable merle ear. "Grey" collies live less than a year, Merle Collies (Blue and Sable) live as long as everybody else.
White Collies: Think of the white gene like a bucket of white paint that covers up the dog's color. When you throw a bucket of white paint up in the air you have no idea how much paint is going to land on each puppy. If you breed two White collies together there is a lot more paint to land on the puppies than if you breed two colored collies together. If you breed a colored collie to a White collie you may easily get "pinto" Collies like my Tundra. "Pinto" Collies and colored collies that have a large white bib and wide white collar and/or a good splash of white on their body are officially known as White Factored Collies because they carry enough white dna to produce White Collies when bred to the right partner.
All of the Collies and Shetland Sheepdogs pictured below are our dogs or bloodline - past and present, unless a visitor is noted: Please click on a photo for the caption.
As you look at the Merles below compare their softer golden faces to the sables below them.
The mask outline on a sable merle's forehead is less pronounced than sables who do not carry the merle gene
Sables: note their more "intense" gold compared to a sable merle.
Tricolors: on the AKC registrations these are listed as Black, White and Tan